The chest is one of the earliest types of furniture, with a long utilitarian tradition. During the Middle Ages, chests served as the primary receptacles of household goods and valuables. They were also called upon to perform double duty as a seating place, at a time when chairs were a luxury for most people.
Although early chest designs were primitive, medieval artisans often adorned them with carved arches and elaborate chivalric and battle scenes. During the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the piece began to assume some of the elements that are still used today, including frame-and-panel joinery, molded tops and bases, and patterned bracket feet. Over the years, attractive hardware was added, such as brass locks, handles, and escutcheons.
In Colonial America, the chest was usually placed at the foot of a bed to store blankets, quilts, and linens—hence the name blanket chest. Today, the piece is used to store everything from toys and clothing to books. Many chests are built with drawers for additional storage.
Blanket chests are all relatively similar, beginning with a rectangular carcase and a hinged top. Dimensions vary, but as a general guideline consider a length of 40 to 45 inches, a width of 18 to 20 inches, and a height of about 25 inches. The carcase is made from panels of edge – glued boards and assembled with dovetail or frame-and-panel joinery. The top features routed wood strips that are attached with sliding dovetail joints (page 91); or a molding can be cut into its edge (page 92). To prevent the top from warping, and as a decorative touch, wood battens can be fastened for stiffening (page 92). The top can be attached with a piano hinge (page 88) or butt hinges (page 89).
The techniques for making base molding and bracket feet for a blanket chest are discussed starting on page 93. You might choose instead to install ogee bracket feet; these make a fitting base for bookcases and armoires as well. Installing blanket box hardware is shown starting on page 100. These items provide the final decorative touch and should be chosen carefully to complement the particular design of your project.
This traditional dovetailed chest, with its patterned feet and molded top and bottom, is based on a design imported to America from eastern Europe in the 18th Century.